Qatar Frees 8 Navy Veterans Jailed on Espionage Charges, 7 Back In India

New Delhi: In a huge diplomatic win for India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ordered the release of the eight Indian nationals and former naval personnel who were sentenced earlier to “varying prison terms” on alleged charges of spying for Israel.

In the early hours of Monday morning, New Delhi put out a statement announcing and welcoming the release of the eight Indians, of whom seven have since returned to India.

India also thanked the Qatar Emir for the release of the eight Indians, who had been earlier sentenced to death by a Qatari court in October 2023 but which was later commuted to varying prison terms in December by a higher court in the tiny oil-rich Gulf nation.

Following this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Doha, Qatar, and meet the Emir on his way back from his two-day visit to the UAE.

The eight Indians were in the process of filing an appeal in Qatar’s highest court for their acquittal when the country’s ruler ordered their release and allowed them to return to India, in a huge relief for them and their families.

It may be noted a conversation had taken place at a meeting in early December last year between Prime Minister Modi and the Qatar Emir on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai. While New Delhi had declined to go into the specifics, it is believed Modi had sought the Qatar Emir’s intervention.

The former naval personnel were shown on TV channels praising Modi on their return for his personal intervention in securing their release. The eight Indian former naval personnel in Qatari custody were earlier identified in media reports as Navtej Singh Gill, Birendra Kumar Verma, Saurabh Vashisht, Amit Nagpal, Purnendu Tiwari, Sugunakar Pakala, Sanjeev Gupta and Ragesh. Of the eight Indians, seven were officers of the Captain and Commodore rank in the Navy while one was a sailor.

Minister of state for external affairs Meenakashi Lekhi hailed the role of Modi and the Qatar Emir. I&B minister Anurag Thakur also hailed Modi’s efforts and said it was proof of India’s rising prestige on the global stage in the past decade.

New Delhi had always reiterated it stands by the eight Indians and would continue to extend all consular and legal assistance to them as well as continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities for their release, which has now been accomplished successfully.

The eight Indians were earlier sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26, 2023, reportedly on espionage charges. Two months later, on December 28 last year, the Qatari Court of Appeal had commuted the death sentences to “varying prison terms”, and had also given a time-period of 60 days to file an appeal. Some media reports suggested the eight Indians had been sentenced to jail terms ranging from three years to 25 years of imprisonment.

It may be recalled that going by media reports in the past several months, the eight Indians were accused by the Gulf nation of spying for Israel on a secret Qatari programme on stealth submarines. The eight Indians were reportedly employees of an Oman-based company, Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Services, which was advising on a Qatari programme aimed at obtaining high-tech Italian-made submarines that could evade radar detection and providing training for Qatar’s Navy. They were all reportedly picked up from their residences in Qatar in August 2021 for questioning and subsequently detained before being convicted. The charges were never spelt out in public by Qatar.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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